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Omega-3s and Liver Health

Oregon State University researchers in Corvallis and collaborators found that omega-3 fatty acids, especially docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), could “be of significant value in the prevention of fatty liver disease”, according to a release from the university.

The research was one of the first of its type to use “metabolomics,” an analysis of metabolites that reflect the many biological effects of omega-3 fatty acids on the liver. It also explored the challenges this organ faces from the “Western diet” that increasingly is linked to liver inflammation, fibrosis, cirrhosis, and sometimes liver failure. The results were surprising, the investigators say.

The release notes that supplements of DHA, used at levels that are sometimes prescribed to reduce blood triglycerides, appeared to have many unanticipated effects. There were observable changes in vitamin and carbohydrate metabolism, protein and amino acid function, as well as lipid metabolism.

Supplementation with DHA partially or totally prevented metabolic damage through those pathways often linked to the Western diet – excessive consumption of red meat, sugar, saturated fat, and processed grains. The findings were published in the journal PLOS One.

The release quotes Donald Jump, a professor in the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences, as saying, “We were shocked to find so many biological pathways being affected by omega-3 fatty acids. Most studies on these nutrients find effects on lipid metabolism and inflammation. Our metabolomics analysis indicates that the effects of omega-3 fatty acids extend beyond that, and include carbohydrate, amino acid and vitamin metabolism.”

Omega-3 fatty acids have been the subject of much recent research, often with conflicting results and claims. Possible reasons for contradictory findings, OSU researchers say, are the amount of supplements used and the relative abundance of two common omega-3s – DHA and eicosapentaenoic acid(EPA). Studies at OSU have concluded that DHA has far more ability than EPA to prevent the formation of harmful metabolites. In one study, it was found that DHA supplementation reduced the proteins involved in liver fibrosis by more than 65 percent.

These research efforts, done with laboratory animals, used a level of DHA supplementation that would equate to about 2-4 grams per day for an average person. In the diet, the most common source of DHA is fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel or sardines.

The most recent research is beginning to break down the specific processes by which these metabolic changes take place. If anything, the results suggest that DHA may have even more health value than previously thought.

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